Izumi Tanaka worked in documentary television and film for years. During that time, she was always photographing various subjects, but when she realized her passion for photographing animals, she started to focus on what she enjoys most. Here are her thoughts on pet and cat photography.
How long have you been photographing pets and how did you get started?
I’ve been shooting for 30 years and have always been shooting my own cats. Since I began to shoot professionally in the last few years, my focus was commercial but it was taking a long time for me to establish myself. Meanwhile, I was posting photos of my cats on my blog and Facebook often, and some my friends overwhelmingly supported me to do pet photography as well. First, I went to a couple of friends to see if I can photograph their cats and dogs as well as I can with my own cats. This was earlier this year (2010), and I’ve been having a blast! I am based in Santa Monica, California.
What kind of pet photography do you do? Do you have a specialty?
I do cats and dogs, but by far, I have a very special connection with cats! And my specialty is that I shoot them in their own natural environment where they’re in their element. I don’t create the scenes, and I just let them show me how they want me to capture them by allowing them to just be who they are.
Do you do anything special to prepare for a photo shoot with a cat?
Usually, I take a few minutes to get to know the cats or hang out in their environment without pointing the camera so they get used to my presence in their space. Once they trust me, there is a synergy between the cat and myself.
What was the most challenging cat photo shoot you have done? Any funny stories?
The only one that I was challenged was with a kitty who kept going behind a chair where I couldn’t shoot, not because he was shy but because that’s where he loved to hang out. Also, when the rooms are dark, it can be challenging because I only use natural and available light.
Do you have any tips for readers about how to take great photos of their cats?
Cats are definitely harder to shoot than dogs because they are more independent. I would never try to make them pose for you or do something they’re not in the mood for. If you can connect with them at the soul level, they tend to show off their essence to you.
For the more technically inclined readers, can you please tell us what equipment you use? (camera, lens, lighting, filters, etc.)
I don’t use any fancy equipment. I have my Canon (I use the Rebel for pet shoot as it’s small and light) with 17~40 mm Zoom. The simpler the better for me to give me the mobility and flexibility.